Thursday, June 30, 2011

Some Final Thoughts on WS100 2011

Having had a few days now to let it all sink in here are a few more thoughts:

While all the incredibly fast times are a sign of the changes taking place in the sport I also believe this year's course and conditions were very, very fast. I would guess that for me, if we had run the original course, I would have been 30 minutes slower. And, if you were to add to that normal race day heat, perhaps slower still. I, for one, am really hoping we can return to the standard course next year (and 110 degree tempratures, as well;).

Of all the amazing performances, these stand out:

Mike Wolfe - super-strong debut WS. Sure, he's proven himself in shorter distances and in other 100's but this is the Big Dance and he brought his A-Game. Ellie Greenwood did, too.

Nick Clark - Even on a sub-par day he made the podium and went under 16 hours. He has established himself as one of the toughest runners around. Now, we'll see what he can do in the San Juans. Hopefully, he won't waste so much energy choosing his shoes.

Tim Olson - I'll be honest, I kept waiting for him to come back to me. And, he didn't. Not even close! He's another "young gun" we should all keep an eye on in the years ahead.

Kami Semick and Nikki Kimball - Seeing these two friends and grizzled ultra veterans sprint around the track for 2nd place really warmed my heart. Especially after finding out that they had to outsmart a bear to get there.

Graham Cooper - I know many people did not have the 2006 winner on their pre-race top-10 lists but I did. Graham called me in March and told me he had quit his job to train full-time. The last time he had done that was in 2006. Please, would someone out there give Graham a job for next year:)

Ian Sharman - I used to think I was a good closer but Ian is a master. He was six minutes behind me at Brown's and finished just 49 seconds off. And, that after he lost 15 minutes in Volcano. If this guy is anywhere close with 10 miles to go, watch out.

Dan Olmstead - This former marathoner was swayed over to the Dark Side by Thornley a few years ago and ended up being carted off in an ambulance from Highway 49 with rhabdo back in 2009. This year, he returned to take care of unfinished business. And, he did.

Bryon Powell - What a great race for him. Maybe more of us need to turn our passion into our purpose.

Meghan Arbogast - Maybe the race of the day from my perspective. She knocked three hours off the women's 50-and-over course record and missed the men's record for that age-group by a mere 6 minutes. That's a record that has been held for 22 years and has been challenged by a who's who of ultra greats.

Finally, I would like to sincerely thank all of the readers of this blog who have written in here, on Facebook and on other blogs to congratulate me on my race. Since 2005 I have lived with the idea that my best WS was behind me. Now, I am not so sure. Thanks everyone!


PS -- It appears as though there will be a changing of the guard in the Race Director position at WS100 as Greg Soderland has announced that next year will be his last year. If the race organizers are looking to replace Greg with someone who has a tireless work ethic, a deep understanding of the history and culture of the WS100, and a passion for running than they need look no further than Craig Thornley.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Western States 100 - 2011 Race Report

This year’s Western States 100 was incredible! In the weeks and days leading up to the race much attention was paid to the snow conditions, the course changes and the impending battle for the 2011 title. In addition, the Master’s field was stacked and the temperatures were forecast to be benign and possibly even downright pleasant. In short, the stage was set for an epic race.

Off the gun I was struck by the somewhat relaxed pace that the guys up front were setting. Possibly because the front of the pack was completely packed with experienced runners and the field of potential winners was so broad, everyone felt the need to get the lay of the land before making any moves. And so it went up to the top of the Escarpment.

Over the top I settled into a relaxed pace and got ready for the snow. It felt like I was in about 20th place and bobbed and weaved through the snow with a pack made up of Glen Redpath, Sim Jae Duk, Tsuyoshi Kaburagi, and Dan Olmstead. We also all blew past Graham Cooper who, I must say, looked like he was running on snow for the first time in his life!

We made it out of the snow in about 2:10 and rolled onto the road to the Poppy Aid Station. As it had last year, this section proved to be smooth and fast and in about 35 minutes we were at Poppy just short of 20 miles in. The singletrack section along the reservoir went by quickly and we opened up into the slashed out trail up the Duncan Canyon Aid Station. Here I caught up to Dave James and Ian Sharman blew past me. We hit the aid right around 3:30. Out of Duncan, our sparse group consisted of Ian, Glen, Dan, Sim, Tsuyoshi, and I.

We rolled on through the new sections of trail for a few miles and then things opened up onto the pavement of Mosquito Ridge Road. Here, Tsuyoshi and Sim moved ahead, Dave dropped a bit behind, and Dan, Glen and I continued our game of uphill/downhill tag. We got into Mosquito Ridge at about 4:42 and headed out on the four-mile loop that the organizers put in to make up the miles missed by not going through Robinson Flat.

It took about 30 minutes from here to get back up onto the original course and then we took the nice smooth road down to Miller’s Defeat (Mile 35ish). The race for the "second 5" was beginning to take shape.

The section from Miller’s Defeat to the Swinging Bridge has always been one of my favorites. Mainly due to the fact that it is generally all downhill and quite smooth, it has often been a place where I can pass a few of the early frontrunners and to get an idea of how I might figure in the final standings. But, on this day, I also had a few surprises.

First, as I was leaving Dusty Corners at Mile 38 I saw Geoff Roes emerging from the aid station after spending a bit time collecting himself. I had no idea, up until then, that he was struggling. It kind of reminded me of 2007 when, in the exact same place, I saw Brian Morrison pulling out of the race. Shortly after that, about two miles before Last Chance, we came upon Ian Sharman who I had thought was ahead by at least 10 minutes but, as it turned out, was also having a bit of a bad patch. So, along with Shaun Pope (22-year old Ice Age 50 winner), Geoff, Ian and I rolled into Last Chance at 6:40. The pace was clearly fast and this was going to be a very interesting day.

I ended up getting out of Last Chance first as I noticed Tsuyoshi leaving the aid station and thought I might be able to get a bit of ground on the descent into Deadwood. It turned out I didn’t have much more in my downhill legs than he did in his as he got to the bottom about a minute before me. It was the last I would see of him all day.

It was awesome to see Scott Dunlap dressed up in his devil costume down on the Swinging Bridge and after a quick dunk in the spring at the bottom I was off on the climb. I ended up getting through Deadwood Canyon in just under an hour which has always been a bit of a benchmark for me. Sim caught me at the aid station and we headed into El Dorado together. I got over the bridge before him but he quickly pulled ahead and got into Michigan Bluff about a minute in front of me. It was a few minutes before 2pm. Then, while I was checking in with my crew, Graham Cooper came blasting past me. Apparently, he had recovered from his lame running through the snow and was ready to give chase. I left Michigan Bluff with both Sim and Graham ahead of me. I also got my first report about the entire field and learned that I was sitting in 12th place. Given the experience and strength ahead I knew top-10 was going to be a stretch. It was time to put my head down and just go.

I was able to get past Sim on the descent to Volcano but I never saw Graham again. Scott Wolfe, my pacer, and Logan, my 11-year old son, met me at the bottom of Bath Road and we made quick work of that climb. Getting into Foresthill shortly before 3pm I did some quick math and thought about getting down to the River by 5:30 and through Green Gate before 6. 16:45 was on the table but I would have to summon the ghosts of 2005 in order to do it.

After Foresthill I left the solid foods behind and began my typical gel every half-an-hour routine combined with chicken broth and S! Caps. Beginning the descent to the River my stomach was feeling great, my quads were holding together, and my feet were intact. We caught and passed Mike Foote on the first downhill and cleared Cal 1 at 3:30. Then, halfway down the “Elevator Shaft” about five minutes before Cal 2, we came up on Hal Koerner and his pacer Erik Skaggs on the side of the trail. We learned later that Hal’s quads were trashed and that the 2-time WS champion would call it a day at Cal 2. Just like that I was in 9th place. The “hunter” quickly became the “hunted”.

After Cal 2, Scott paced me to my best Cal 2-to-the-River split in eight years and I jumped onto the boat ready to make quick work of the climb to Green Gate. I got up there by 5:55pm, had a quick shot of chicken broth, and left with Jeff Hutson, my second pacer.

My one-hour split to ALT was only average and my mind began to wander to those who were behind me as well as those who were ahead of me. We learned that Graham and Dave Mackey (who I had not seen all day) were 5-7 minutes ahead and that Dan and Ian were closing behind me. When I hit Brown’s Bar at Mile 90, a mere 12 minutes separated places 7-11. Clearly, the battle for M10 had taken shape.

When I got to Highway 49 at 8:25pm Dave was just leaving the aid station, then, when I was leaving, Dan ran in with Ian only a minute or so behind him. Knowing that Ian and Dan had serious leg speed and had proven to be "closers" I told Scott that we would need to run sub-70 to the finish if I was going to keep the top-10 streak alive. He said, "We'll run a 68!"

We passed Dave at the top of the climb and tried to get a gap on the descent. But Dave is a very tough, strong and determined runner and he was not going to give up that #8 spot without a fight. About a mile up from No Hands Bridge (which I crossed, for the first time in 8 tries, in the last waning minutes of daylight), Dave passed me and pulled quickly away. With no uphill pep left in my legs my attention, once again, was re-redirected behind me. I had heard the cheers from No Hands and guessed that #10 was within 90 seconds so it was not surprising that when we hit the pavement at Robie Point and looked back down on the trail a light was bobbing up about a minute behind. For the third consecutive year, I was under top-10 stress with a mile to go.

We hit the raging one mile-to-go party and fell into a steady, painful run. It was probably 8:50 pace but felt more like 5:50. My son Logan, who had run out to join us in this final victory jog, was pressed into duty as a sentry as we told him to keep his head on a swivel and keep an eye out for Ian’s/Dan’s light until we were over the white bridge.

By the time we hit the track I felt like I could relax a little. My youngest son Tully came out to join us for the final 250 and I smiled all the way around the track. As I crossed the line and began to wallow in the post-race euphoria I couldn’t help but think about how far I have come since my first top-10 back in 2004. As a runner, as a friend, as a husband, as a father and, indeed, as a person, this race has shaped me, changed me, and taught me how to be a better human being. For me, that has been the greatest gift of the Western States 100.

And, I must admit, I am already looking forward to Race #9 in 2012 and, especially, Race #10 in 2013. There is no doubt that next year the top-10 streak will once again be tested but I actually think I like the challenge.

In fact, I know I do!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


I have been thoroughly enjoying the last few days before the Big Dance this year. We arrived in Squaw Valley on Tuesday and have had a couple great runs and some wonderful family time in the Tahoe Basin.

But, now, it's game time.

It’s been interesting to look at the polling data from the blog over the past week or so. It appears as though the prognosticators see it as a two-man race between Geoff Roes and Killian Jornet with a strong chase pack of Nick Clark, Hal Koerner and Dave Mackey.

It's after those five fast guys that things get interesting.

Clearly, Mike Wolfe, Ian Sharman, Tsuyoshi Kaburagi and Jez Bragg have the inside track on the rest of the top-10 but beyond that it gets very, very interesting. Truly, this could be one of the most competitive top-10's in recent years.

As many who read this blog know I am somewhat obsessed with Western States and, in particular, the top-10. That said, I will be the first to say that this year will be my toughest test yet. (And Meltzer has already predicted my 15th place finishJ)

Back in 2004 when I first cracked the top-10 the gap between the winning time (Jurek’s then CR) and 10th place was over three hours. Last year, even with Geoff’s new CR, the gap between the winner and 10th placewas two and a half hours. Furthermore, back in 2007, I arrived in Michigan Bluff in 10th place and finished 4th. Just last year, I cleared Last Chance, a full 12 miles earlier than Michigan Bluff, in 10th place and ended up only finishing 9th. In other words, top-10 is getting harder. It is clearly the place for this sports badasses!

Looking ahead to this year with the easier course, the fast melting snow, and the forecast benign temperatures I am guessing that the winner will run under 15 hours and a top-10 finish will require a sub-17 hour run. Of course, time will tell and these things always have a way of sorting themselves out, but for me, I am getting to work tonight on my 16:45 split card.

I hope to see many of you at the panel discussion that I will be facilitating tomorrow night at the Squaw Valley Lodge at 6:30pm with Jim Scott, Scott Mills, Luanne Park, Craig Thornley and Nikki Kimball.

Monday, June 20, 2011

2011 Snow Course

The 2011 Snow Course has been posted here

Thoughts? What kind of runners does it favor? Has anyone been on these new sections of trail? How does everyone feel about no crew access until Michigan Bluff? So many questions...

Going to be exciting!

Some Course info from Gary Wang...

I measured the distance from top of Poppy to entrance to the Glen Mine
Logging Road.
The Duncan Aid station will be next to the Mosquito Ridge Road.
from top of Poppy to the road is 0.1 mile

>From top of Poppy, thru first section of new trail to the red star ridge
road (1.48 mile)

>From red star ridge road, down to the bridge, then up to the gate at Glen
mine (1.22 mile)

from red star ridge road to the bridge is 0.7 mile. You will be on the road
bridge when you cross Duncan Creek.
You will have dry feet from Duncan to N43.

I didn't get on Glen Mine Road at all, but if you look at the google map you
can see it in aerial map.
It will go away from the Mosquito ridge, and drop elevation, then you will
climb back up to N43.
This section is about 6 miles. Fireroad.

>From N43, you follow the road toward little Bald Mt. then drop back into the
normal course.
expect snow there.

And this, from Tim...

Only 1.2 on pavement, the rest is good fire road or double-track other than a few meters out of Duncan where it was a junior Poppy trail from last year. If I had any advice for someone that hasn’t done the new stuff is to beware of the climb to 31 miles. Lots of downhill before that but then you climb 800 feet in just over a mile and it’s exposed at the top. You’ll want to max out with water before leaving Duncan. It’s 7.5 miles but the heat should be noticeable by then. You climb again after you cross MRR. Difficulty wise, I’d say it’s a wash compared to last year other than there’s at least three more feet of snow on the ground. It’ll be solid snow from the GC sign to when you get out of snow on Road 51 near Talbot. There’s snow almost down to Dusty Corners. All should be good by Friday.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Week out

It's been a different and difficult year for us going into Western States this year and I think it's been good. We moved out of our house in Sun Valley this past Thursday and are currently with family in Bend, OR before heading down to Squaw Valley on Monday. All in all, we are ready for WS 100 #8 and hoping for the best.

But, the last year has got me thinking about why I run. And, in particular, why I run 100 miles. You see, it seems to me that with everything life throws at you, especially in this day and age, it is important, if not essential, to have that thing that grounds you in pure human existence. For us, right now, it is important to have a place in your life where you can go to be normal, honest, and whole. A place that is at once wholly ours and wholly shared.

For me, not surprisingly, that place of peace is on the run. And, it is, most specifically, on that iconic stretch of trail between Squaw Valley and Auburn. I know there are many people who feel this way but when I run I am truly whole. When I run I am able to find and occupy that place that allows me to be fully me and I can find answers to questions that are seemingly unanswerable in other contexts. It is, quite simply, the essence of who I am.

So, going into this last week before the race, I am determined to soak it all in. I am determined to bask in the beauty and the wonder of running 100 miles across the California countryside. And, in the process to leave it all out there in one more run for the ages.

I can't wait to see everyone in Squaw!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Top-10 at Robinson and Top-10 at the Finish

Interesting trend in this most recent poll. The voters obviously have done their homework. Here are the numbers:

2004 - Four of the top-1o at Robinson finished in the top-10
2005 - Four again
2006 - Four again!
2007 - Four again!!!
2009 - Five!
2010 - Six!

What'll it be in 2011. Will there be seven of the Robinson Flat top-10'ers making it to the Finish?

One thing's for sure, if you want to finish in the top-1o you better be in the mix on Cal Street!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Barn

Two farming analogies have always intrigued me when it comes to ultra training and racing. The first one usually comes to mind a couple weeks before a big race. It's the old "the hay's in the barn" comment which inevitably means the training is done and there is nothing left to do but suffer through the taper and get ready for race day.

The other is, on the opposite end of the spectrum, the "smell of the Barn." For me, this usually comes around No Hands Bridge when I am close enough to the Finish line to know that I'll need to run every step of the last three miles and hope for the best.

Well, going into this year's race I can say, with some degree of confidence, that the "hay's in the Barn." In the past eight weeks I have logged weeks of 98, 91, 92, 89, 87, 145, 95, and 100 miles and I feel as though I have done everything I can to prepare, specifically, for the WS100 coming 13 days from today.

In addition, I managed to pull together months of 313, 288, 368, 358 and 460 since January so I think I have what I need to make a go at a sub-17 hour finish.

But, all that said, we still need to wait for the Race Organizers to figure out which course we'll run and then we can all decide, individually and collectively, what it will take to get to that place where we begin to "smell the Barn."

Until then, I hope you all enjoy the taper and all that it means:)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Western States Panel Discussion

Two weeks to go! Nice.

For those of you who will be in Squaw on Thursday, June 23rd I hope you can join us for the panel discussion that I am facilitating at 6:30pm in the Squaw Valley Lodge. We will provide beverages and light snacks and the presenters will be outstanding. Scheduled to appear are:

Jim Scott - 18 time WS finisher
Scott Mills - 15 time WS finisher
Luanne Park - 8 time WS finisher
Craig Thornley - 7 time WS finisher
Nikki Kimball - 5 time WS finisher (and three-time winner!)

We'll be discussing everything; snow, heat, nutrition, The Course, shoes, pre-race nerves, trashed quads, blisters, stomach issues and other, perhaps more philosophical aspects of the race.

We hope you can join us!


Monday, June 6, 2011

Leaving Sun Valley

Great run with my Sun Valley buddies here

Saturday, June 4, 2011

WS Snow!

OK, since everyone's talking about it I figured I would too. The snow in the Sierras is simply lingering. Here are a couple of tidbits:

1. Squaw will be open for skiing, yes skiing, on July 4th weekend.
2. The Tevis Cup Horse Race, originally scheduled for mid-July, has been moved to October due to heavy snowpack.

What does this mean for WS100?

Well, I would be surprised if they moved the date of the race so, here's my thinking (and all of this is conjecture)

1. If they can get into Robinson Falt we'll slog through all the snow like we did last year (although there is more this year) and take the road down to the reservoir and the Poppy Trail and bypass Lyon and Red Star Ridge before climbing up to Duncan on that heinous, exposed, muck-pit of a trail. Then, from Duncan we'll run the normal course (albeit with some sketchy, snowy parts)

2. If they can't get into Robinson Flat we'll be re-routed around all that high country onto the southern exposures and then somehow re-join the regular course around Miller's Defeat. I know nothing about this route but I have heard from some folks that there are tons of sweet trails out that way so it could be fun. Although, I must admit it would be strange to not go to Robinson (i guess they skipped Robinson last back in 1995 (the Fire and Ice Year) please correct me if I am wrong.

3. Same as two but instead of doing the trail they bring us out on to the pavement (like they did in the '80's) and then re-join the course sometime around Duncan.

4. Forget the whole WS100 course and just do the AR50 Course as an out-and-back:)

All this bring to mind the thought of how snow gets into peoples heads especially if they have not done much snow running. Clearly, snowy running favors Alaskans and guys from the Pyrenees but how else do you think all this will shake out? 20 days!


Thursday, June 2, 2011

WS Men's Race - Prognostication

It's about that time. A bit of commentary on the 2011 WS100 mens field.

Sadly, Anton made it official yesterday on his blog that injury will force him to the sidelines this year. That is, of course, a bummer for those of us WS fans but for fans of the mountain runs coming later in the summer it means we should get prepared for a Course Record assault (possibly Leadville?) later in the summer. Scanning the entrants list in my head here are some of the contenders:

1. From last year's top-10 -- Roes, Jornet, Clark, Redpath, Sharman, Jones-Wilkins, Barger
2. Additions from 2009's top-10 - Bragg, Kaburagi
3. Addition from 2007's top-10 - Jae-Duk Sim
4. Proven WS100 veterans - Koerner, Mackey, Skaden, Cooper
5. Proven 100 mile guys looking for a break-out WS finish - Wolfe, T. Olson, Jaime, Braje, Freeman, Olmstead, Taylor, Foote
6. Some familiar names with tricks up their sleeves -- Thornley, Kulak
7. MUC qualifiers - Loutitt, Arnstein

OK, there are 26 guys, who am I missing?

And, how do you think this field stacks up to the 2010 field?

In my opinion, as a fan and "second-5" guy, it seems about as deep but the absence of three of last year's top-1o guys is noteworthy (in addition to Anton's injury, I understand Gary broke his foot and Zach has chosen to run Bighorn) as is the addition of some big established names (Bragg, Kaburagi, Mackey, Wolfe, etc...)

With 23 days to go I would imagine everyone's training is at a fever pitch. Here's to everyone getting to the line healthy.

Finally, here's my top-5:

1. Roes
2. Koerner
3. Clark
4. Wolfe
5. Bragg

What's yours?